Tua May Be 'Ready to Go,' but Dolphins Need to Take It Slow

Brad Gagnon@Brad_Gagnon NFL National ColumnistJuly 25, 2020

FILE - In this Feb. 27, 2020, file photo, Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa watches a drill at the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis. Tagovailoa is a likely first round pick in the NFL Draft Thursday, April 23, 2020.  (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)
Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

Under ordinary circumstances, there would be no question that the Miami Dolphins should install Tua Tagovailoa as their starter early in his rookie season.

After all, Tua is a No. 5 overall pick. Twelve of the last 13 quarterbacks drafted in the top five started at least a dozen games in their debut seasons, and Tagovailoa gained plenty of polish while throwing 684 passes over a three-year stretch in the best conference in college football.

But these aren't ordinary circumstances.

In a recent interview with USA Today's Chris Bumbaca, the Alabama product declared himself "ready to go." But the reality is he's still just eight months removed from suffering a career-threatening hip injury.

It's encouraging that Tagovailoa says he has a clean bill of health, just as it was promising when NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported during the NFL Scouting Combine that Tua "received overwhelmingly positive reports on his dislocated hip from teams who examined him." It was also a good omen when Rapoport tweeted in April that the 2018 SEC Offensive Player of the Year "fulfilled all medical obligations" in a voluntary medical recheck.

But we're talking about an injury that was described to CBS Sports' Josh Edwards by one doctor as "one of the few true orthopedic emergencies." Doctors had to reset Tagovailoa's dislocated hip on-site at Mississippi State's Davis Wade Stadium, he was taken by helicopter to a Birmingham, Alabama, hospital, and within 72 hours, he underwent surgery.

Rogelio V. Solis/Associated Press
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The Miami Herald's Barry Jackson reported in May that "Miami isn't opposed to playing Tagovailoa as a rookie if he earns the opportunity at some point this season." But the team has to take a cautious approach at this time.

With August looming, Tua still hasn't taken an official practice snap with his new teammates. Those snaps will inevitably be severely limited throughout training camp, and there'll be no preseason.

And those unique dynamics won't just affect the 22-year-old directly. NFL offenses typically struggle to find their rhythms in the first few weeks of the regular season, possibly because the personnel are still trying to jell. Continuity is critical, especially along the offensive line, and relatively recent efforts to curb training-camp obligations will make it difficult for teams to establish that continuity in August and September.

Look for everybody to be playing catch-up for an extended period of time. Regular-season football is going to be weird, and—frankly—bad. Officiating might suffer as a result of a lost offseason and preseason (officials won't even work camp practices), and teams might lack cohesion on both sides of the ball.

That all makes the sport more dangerous, especially for a young quarterback who has a somewhat troublesome injury history and is coming off major surgery. And in the Dolphins' case, the danger could be exacerbated by the fact that they have a new offensive coordinator in Chan Gailey as well as a new-look offensive line that could feature rookies Austin Jackson and Robert Hunt alongside newcomers Ereck Flowers and Ted Karras.

This is a rebuilding team. Only the Jacksonville Jaguars, Carolina Panthers and the Washington Football Team have worse Super Bowl odds at Caesars Palace, and Miami at least has a reliable veteran option in Ryan Fitzpatrick.

With little on the line, the Dolphins should play it safe and give their prized rookie signal-caller more time than they likely would have under normal circumstances.

Vasha Hunt/Associated Press

There have been a lot of success stories associated with throwing first-year quarterbacks to the wolves, but the highest-rated passer in NFL history held a clipboard for three years before he finally took the reins. Nobody expects the Dolphins to give Tagovailoa the Aaron Rodgers treatment, but he's proof that it's OK to let quarterbacks marinate.

There's nothing normal about this NFL season, nothing normal about the evolving Dolphins roster and nothing normal about the injury Tua suffered in the fall. Miami must take this slow, even if it means fans will have to wait a full season before watching the most hyped Dolphin since Dan Marino take the field.

                                            

Brad Gagnon has covered the NFL for Bleacher Report since 2012. Follow him on Twitter: @Brad_Gagnon.

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